Last weekend I made my first trip (one of many, I hope) to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for an afternoon with my mom. I’ve wanted to visit the Met since before I can remember, and once I was there it was very hard to leave. Being surrounded by so much artwork from all over the world, and from such far reaches of history, gives me a thrill. There’s a sense of being suddenly connected to cultures and artistic ideas that we otherwise would’ve never had any insight into, and just being open to that can elevate one’s own creativity and expand one’s imagination. A lot of people think art is just a luxury, or that it’s exclusive, but I really think its basic importance is that it heightens our ability to feel; it gives us a chance to experience our own emotional reactions to ideas. I think art teaches compassion, and in a time when compassion is so often overlooked how is that not something worth preserving, right?
Charles James: Beyond Fashion | The Daughters of Catulle Mendès (Auguste Renoir, 1888)
Our first stop was the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit in the newly revamped Costume Institute. Being a special exhibition at the museum, my understanding was that photography wasn’t allowed (though let me tell you, I was one of only a few people who heeded that rule), but you can see a glimpse of it on the Met’s website. I especially love the second video on this page which shows some of the fascinating ways technology was incorporated into the exhibit. While some of James’s designs look very straightforward and (dare I say it) typical for the 1950s, the exhibit goes beyond what we see (literally, using x-rays and simulated images) to connect the viewer with James’s unique genius. His eye for structure and his imaginative approach to cutting was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the dresses, suits, and coats beside a computer screen that then deconstructed the garments to show exactly how they were made (and making it look super easy in the process). There’s also a small gallery with samples of James’s hats, from his early days as a milliner, as well as different bits of his history. (One thing I loved was his handwritten list of people he wished he had dressed, among them “Miss Audrey Hepburn, a wisp of steel” and “Mr. Mick Jagger, sexy bastard”.) The exhibit closes on August 10 so if you’re in the Manhattan area I can’t recommend it enough!
Although photography in the Charles James exhibit wasn’t allowed, still photos are welcome in the galleries containing the permanent collection, so when we later traipsed over to see my beloved Impressionists I was in full-on shutterbug mode. I took nearly 100 pictures that day!
Water Lilies (Claude Monet, 1919)
The Boulevard Montmarte on a Winter Morning (Camille Pissarro, 1897)
Young Woman Seated on a Sofa (Berthe Morisot, 1879)
Madame Manet (Édouard Manet, 1880)
The Dance Class (Edgar Degas, 1874)
View of Marly-le-Roi from Coeur-Volant (Alfred Sisley, 1876)
The Organ Rehearsal (Henry Lerolle, 1885)
Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (Vincent van Gogh, 1887)
Monet was my first favorite artist, and I’ve seen some of his painting in-person before, but the Met’s collection of 19th century Europe’s masters is more impressive than I had anticipated. I loved seeing some of Berthe Morisot’s work (one of the few women who exhibited with the famed Impressionists in Paris – girl power!), as well as the incredible range of work they have from Degas. (Edgar appears in a few collective galleries, but then he has a few rooms all to himself as well.) While there were the classic Degas dancers, the Met also has on view some of his pastel nudes (two of my favorites being Woman with a Towel and Woman Combing Her Hair) which I just find to be so unflinchingly real and beautiful at the same time (it’s nice to think, if life imitates art, that the unflinchingly real can be beautiful at the same time!). The Met also has some of his sculptures, which I was really excited to see, especially this one. There was also van Gogh’s infamous self-portrait, and a gallery full of Camille Pissarro, who I really think captures the essence of Impressionism beautiful.
Do I sound like I have any idea what I’m talking about? I really don’t. I just like pretty pictures. (Also, if you’re a fan of Degas or the Impressionists at large I can’t recommend this novel enough!)